Equipment, Tech & Toys

Should we leave our children to their own devices?

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“Mummy, I want to do a toy review.”

“Ok. Go ahead.”

“But I need the camera, mummy.”

As my wife and I laughed, it occurred to us that this was the first time our son ever asked to do one. We just bought him a toy robot which he really liked and wanted to talk about.

For those in the dark (though I highly doubt it), there is a famous YouTube channel of a boy reviewing his toys with the help of his parents and sister. I can’t elaborate much as I’m not exactly his target audience but my son certainly is and he is a huge fan. I can safely say the same for millions of other kids around the world.

This new-found confidence my 5-year-old son exuded had me thinking of all the articles and videos stressing how detrimental gadgets can be for children.

But, just how detrimental can they be?

Now, this might be controversial, so I’ll whisper it – they might not be all that bad.

There are enough information out there to support the argument against it. Allow me to play devil’s advocate.

Computers as a learning aid

A research paper that studies the effect of computers on children as an audio-visual aid state that computers allow them to use a vast mine of information. A child’s learning rate differs from one to the other. It’s one of the many things that makes each of us unique. Having seen my son grow up during these past five years, I can see that he absorbs sounds and images at a rapid rate and makes them part of his daily lexicon. This gave him an edge when he started pre-school. I have also seen other children count, identify colours and shapes, and name body parts at the tender age of three, thanks to catchy rhymes and songs.

The same research paper also mentioned that computers as a learning aid help do away with people’s racial, ethnic and colour features. They also help develop communication without prejudices and build a common global culture. Personally, I can vouch for this as I cannot recall a single moment where my son asked why another person is of a different skin colour, or talks in a different language. Sure, he’ll have his opinion later in life but at this stage, I’m happy with the fact that he’s oblivious to race, colour or creed. With all that is happening in the world today, a tiny bit of ignorance is certainly bliss.

On the subject of language, one in particular is making headway among young children today. Although there are variants of it, it is more commonly known as ‘coding’. Essentially, they are lines of programming codes that are used to create applications and websites. They are now so widely used and simplified, that even nine year olds are capable of creating useful mobile applications. This breeds a new level of creativity and innovation, and has a large community of developers that interacts frequently.

Practicalities and Opportunities

The sheer number of devices in this world makes it almost impossible to avoid using one. In fact, a Statista survey made in March 2016 found that 21% of Malaysian respondents made use of two connected devices on a daily basis. That amounts to one in every five of the population. So, why not make the best out of a situation? If parents are not keen on giving their children access to the Internet too early but want to see how they react to these devices, fret no further. There are other offline alternatives out there that use cartridges containing various learning materials.

There is also the opportunity to teach manners and discipline with children when using these devices. A more fun way to limit the usage is by using a timetable where you can chuck in other tasks and chores. Also, promises have always been a weapon for parents. A trip to Legoland for good marks at school. An ice cream cone for cleaning a room. A new football for good behaviour. An hour of Minecraft on the tablet for completing their homework. It’s the same difference.

However, we simply cannot ignore the negatives – some are undeniably justified. Long-period usage of electronic devices can affect a child’s eyesight, especially if they view them too close for comfort or use them in the dark. Addiction can also be a problem. Even adults can be attached to devices with all the content the Internet provides us. So, one can only imagine what it can do to an innocent child. More worryingly, children may access unwanted and vulgar content. Unfortunately, there are people out there who think it is ‘funny’ to make videos of cartoon characters doing filthy acts to one another, knowing very well that children are bound to click on any links that have the names of their favourite superheroes. Those are just a few but harmful examples of using electronic devices unsupervised.

Technology and Parenting

That last word – unsupervised – is paramount to the arguments for and against. Under proper supervision and censorship, electronic devices mixed with a sprinkle of magic that is the Internet can be the ultimate teaching tool for our little ones. We can’t deny the fact that these devices are going nowhere and will forever be integrated in our daily lives.

That’s where our parenting skills come into play. It goes without saying that it will be us who will mould our children into the adults they become. One can even say that learning to balance or limit access to these devices is unprecedented, as parents of yesteryear did not have to deal with what we face today. However, that is no excuse. Parenting is something you learn as you go. As this article mentioned early on, each child is different. That includes how they deal with instructions. So, we can read all the do’s and dont’s when it comes to finding the perfect balance but ultimately, we, the parents will need to make the decision.

I have no doubt in my mind that we will make the right one.

By Kimi Jamalus

Mohd Hakimi Jauhari Jamalus juggles the responsibilities of being an IT consultant for a UK-based online media company with being a father to a son and daughter every day. He always find new things to learn when it comes to parenthood and is enjoying every second of it.